Changes give farmers the flexibility to earn some additional income
Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett. (CARMINE MARINELLI/24 HOURS FILE PHOTO)
Columnists Laila Yuile and Brent Stafford battle over the issues of the day. The winner of last week’s duel on the port strike was Laila with 79%.
This week’s topic:
Are changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve good for British Columbia?
When Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett embarked on the core review of government programs and services he posed a simple question regarding the Agricultural Land Reserve. How can we ensure good agricultural land remains in the reserve and is protected from development, while identifying opportunities on other lands that shouldn’t be in the reserve?
This week we got the answer when the government announced changes to the Agricultural Land Commission. These are much-needed and significant changes.
The B.C. Liberal government characterizes the changes to the ALR as improvements and I couldn’t agree more. For far too long the ALR as been treated as sacrosanct and untouchable — leaving many farmers without the flexibility to use their land for other value-added businesses. Critics can howl all they want about the changes, but it’s about time. The ALR was established in the 1970s by the NDP-led government and I can’t name any other government program or policy that hasn’t undergone some form of improvement over the last 40 years. Why should we not look to improve the ALR?
The government is breaking up the ALR into two zones and this makes perfect sense. The most productive farmland in the province is in the South Coast, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan, so these areas remain status quo, protected as always in Zone 1. The Interior, Kootenay and North regions will remain protected in Zone 2, but farmers and farm families will be given broader flexibility to consider non-agricultural, home-based businesses.
This flexibility is desperately needed in order to shore up the economic foundation of B.C. farms. According to Statistics Canada, almost half of B.C. farms have annual sales less than $10,000 and 75% have annual sales less than $50,000. Simply, the vast majority of farming in B.C. operates as small businesses. The ability to remove rocky, non-arable land from the ALR and task it to revenue-generating means will provide B.C. farmers with the financial stability to continue producing food.
Critics are correct when they point out that 90% of the land in the ALR is in Zone 2. What they fail to mention is that this land produces only 15% of B.C.’s farm cash receipts. The South Coast region alone produces two-thirds of the province’s farm cash receipts and this land remains unaffected by the changes.
These improvements to the ALR benefit B.C. by helping farmers to continue to farm.
Brent Stafford is a veteran television news-documentary producer and marketing specialist. You can watch his show at ShakyPolitics.com.
Who wins this week's duel on changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve for BC?